The Combination of Effort and Faith

By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov Jax. FL

In the year 1910, the Czarist government convened a Rabbinical conference with the explicit aim of meddling in Jewish religious affairs. In good despotic tradition, the participating Rabbis were secretly exposed to a list of 102 Jewish communities where pogroms were to “likely occur” should the conference fail to produce the desired results.

Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (Rashab) saw the issue as a matter of spiritual life and death. Throughout the conference, he railed the government’s plan and even dared to expose the ministers who were kind enough to share the grim prophesy of the impending pogroms.

“It is beyond the capacity of any power on earth,” declared the Rebbe, “to decree over matters of our faith,”even if they might claim jurisdiction over material issues.”

Following his impassioned words, the Rashab was placed under house arrest, but not before being revived from his state of faint.

When one of the leading Rabbis of the time came to visit the Rebbe he found him weeping. “Lubavitcher Rebbe!” exclaimed the Rabbi, “Why are you so distressed? Haven’t you done everything in your means?”

The Rebbe could not relate to the logic. “And therefore?” he asked with a genuine sense of bewilderment. “The reality is that we have thus far failed in our mission of averting the damming decrees.”

“Does anything in this world ever work the way it’s supposed to?” This perplexing observation, made in utter exasperation by my six year old son, remains etched in my memory. It came after a valiant struggle to build a model airplane, a battle which he ended-up losing.

As we encounter the world and its sometimes stubborn realities, it does not take long to discover that no matter how great the effort or how pure the intentions, things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to, or at least the way we expect them to. It is hence a truly magnificent triumph to experience the successful ending of a pursued endeavor.

The more difficult the undertaking, the greater the joy in seeing it come to fruition. This phenomenon takes on a complete new dimension when dealing with communal objectives. The mission is so much more complex and the successful conclusion that much greater a miracle.

Yet, precisely for the above stated reason, there exists a goodly amount of obscurity over the extent of man’s ability and means to influence the outcome of his own complex endeavors; whether he in fact actually has the necessary say and control over the matter.

Within that debate lay the question whether Judaism, in its instruction, expects of us a certain set of results, or is it satisfied with our good intentions and best efforts?

The answer, it appears, is that while there is plenty of respect in Jewish theology for good intentions as well as for effort, they are not always enough. While there are indeed matters that depend mostly on intentions, as there are matters that are judged on the basis of the integrity and degree of the effort, good intentions and healthy exertion sometimes just don’t cut it.

There are times when it is of critical importance that the issue at hand actually be accomplished. Anything short of getting-the-job-done is tantamount to failure, sort of like the salesperson that can’t close a deal. But how can we be expected to accomplish this elusive feat?

Parsha Pekudei, the second of this week’s double Torah reading and the final portion in the Book of Exodus, may shed some light on the issue. Pekudei summarizes the glorious accomplishment of the Children of Israel in building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) – the edifice that was designed to house the Divine presence in this temporal world.

The building of the Mishkan was a mammoth feat; an act that consumed an entire nation. Men and women of all ages played a role in this great endeavor: “Every man whose heart inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the portion of G‑d for the work of the Tent of Meeting – for all its labor and for the sacred vestments. The men came with the women; everyone whose heart motivated him . . . raised up an offering of gold to the Lord.” (Exodus 35:21-22)

At the end of our Parsha, the Torah describes what happened once the Mishkan was erected and all the vessels had been positioned in their proper places: “Moshe made a final inspection of all the Mishkan’s components and lo! they had accomplished it as G‑d had commanded and Moshe blessed them.” (39:43)

Upon seeing the Mishkan complete, the nation, with great joy and fanfare, beheld the magnificent masterpiece. Moshe was so moved by the sight that he did something he’d do only one other time in his life – just before his passing – he blessed the entire nation. Rashi describes the nature of his blessing: “May the Lord rest His presence in your handiwork.” What is the meaning and purpose of this blessing?

At the beginning of the commandment to build the Tabernacle the Torah states “And they’ll make for Me a sanctuary and I’ll dwell among them.” Amongst the many religions that have come and gone, there are those that have relegated G‑d to the heavens of heavens and there are those that have turned Him into wind and sand. None has ever dreamt of fitting an elusive, holy and infinite G‑d into a lowly and finite vessel. That, however, is precisely what the sanctuary is about.

After Moshe’s blessing, the Torah proceeds to describe how G‑d’s presence filled the Mishkan. “And the cloud covered the Ohel Moed and the honor of G‑d filled the Mishkan.” (40:34).

Mazal Tov! The most elusive achievement in all of history had just played out right before their eyes. For the first time since creation, the original Divine will and intent had come to be, the fusion of heaven and earth – the holy and infinite with the lowly and finite. This of course, was a real propitious occasion – a cause for true joy and celebration.

What was set forth in the beginning of the book of Genesis with the creation of the world, and reinforced thereafter with the unprecedented event at Sinai, had come into full fruition at the end of our Parsha and book of Exodus by virtue of a tedious and maticulas effort, but not before Moshe’s short yet poignant prayer.

As is well known, the Tabernacle in the desert is a prototype for the temple that each one of us is commanded to build on a microcosmic level, within our very own entities. Much as with the Mishkan, our own personal endeavors must entail vigorous effort and assertion. We cannot expect our successes and achievements to fall like Manna from heaven.  On the other hand our efforts alone, without Divine blessing, is like a body without a soul.

Much as with the Mishkan, only through the combination of physical exertion, which creates the vessel, and Divine intervention – through faith and prayer, which creates the energy/blessing, can there be true success in our actions and undertakings.

May the Lord rest His presence in all of our handiwork, especially in our efforts to hasten the coming of the righteous Moshiach.

Chazak Chazak V’nischazeik!